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Crowdsourcing in times of Crisis

Social media has dramatically impacted the way we communicate and keep in touch with each other and the world at large. It has given us the means to communicate more—and often more effectively; especially in crisis situations. Crowdsourcing in times of crisis as defined by Merriam-Webster (2018), is the “practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers”. 

Individuals in crisis situations can use social media in a number of different ways. An example of one way is via Facebook’s Safety Check (also referred to as Crisis Response). Facebook’s Safety Check is a section on Facebook where you can find information about recent crises, use Safety Check to connect with friends and loved ones during a crisis, offer or find help for people in the affected area, and create or donate to fundraiser to support recovery efforts. It is an incredibly quick and easy way to relieve your friends and family from worry. Safety Check activates when numerous people in an affected area are posting about an incident such as an earthquake, hurricane, mass shooting or building collapse. A global crisis reporting agency alerts Facebook and allows people in the affected area to receive a notification from Facebook to mark themselves as ‘safe’.

Bruns et al. (2012, p.9), notes that social media plays a crucial role in crisis communication and emergency management. Another example of crowdsourcing in action was the 2011 Queensland floods. The Australian state of Queensland encountered an unparalleled amount of rainfall during December 2011 and January 2011, resulting in extensive flooding across large areas. The floods were reported extensively by the Australian and international mainstream media. As the floods started to affect major population centres, social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, began to play a vital role, as locals used them to disperse first-hand footage of the incident in their local areas (Bruns et al. 2012, p.11). On Twitter, the hashtag #qldfloods quickly arose as a central mechanism for bringing together discussion and information exchange associated to the floods. More than 35,000 tweets covering the #qldfloods hashtag were captured during the period of 10-16 January (Bruns et al. 2012, p.23).

According to Bruns et al. (2012, p. 31), Twitter is promptly becoming a prime source of information for more mainstream news and media outlets. With the Queensland floods receiving global mainstream media attention, and widespread attention from social media users around the world, this allowed observers to retweet news stories and call for donations, as well as demonstrate interest and concern.  

Social media has created a new way for people to interact and share information during emergencies, and it is clear that social media is effectively being used to spread important safety information during a crisis.


- Bruns, A, Burgess, J, Crawford, K & Shaw, F 2012, ‘#qldfloods and @QPSMedia: Crisis Communication on Twitter in the 2011 South East Queensland Floods’, ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries & Innovation (CCI), pp. 1-57.

- Facebook 2018, Crisis Response, Facebook, viewed 23 May 2018,

- Facebook 2018, How is Safety Check activated, Facebook, viewed 23 May 2018,

- Merriam-Webster 2018, Crowdsourcing, Merriam-Webster, viewed 23 May 2018,

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